Chris and/or Jaybird Bait…

I can across this yesterday and originally meant to add it to the links post.  But I think it deserves a post of its own, for many reasons, not the least of which, does this work?  How does it compare to Fagles or Fitzgerald, the two translations I have read?  Does it pair well with Kazantzakis’ Odyssey?

From what I gather, MC Lula felt that there was no version that really captured the vitality, the exuberance of how it would have been recited, chanted, lived.  Of how visceral it was, in a way that only rap and hip hop is.

  1. Muse, rhyme of the beef of the son of Peleus
  2. that piled mad grief all up on the Achaeans
  3. and spurred to Perdition the souls of real gangstas,
  4. yo, and for bitches an’ crows they made banquets.
  5. The mighty god Zeus’s will was accomplished
  6. when, fighting, those two was split up in contest:
  7. Atrides, lord of men, and Achilles with the brilliance.
  8. Which of the gods willed these two to militance?

I have not had a chance to read the all of the piece yet, so I will not judge the whole at this time.  But I am very intrigued and on a raw level I think it works.

“The Iliad we know today is the written form of an entire oral tradition unto itself, which ancient epic poets whose names and numbers we’ll never know invented on their feet, their genius and imagination driven forth by musical accompaniment that kept the dactylic-hexameter beat. The long, repeated sections—the formulae—existed to give the poet time to freestyle the next bit.”  – MC Lula

To answer at least one of my questions, I think it works infinitely better than the Fitzgerald version, which is quite staid.  Fagles is beautiful and I would have put it as the best.  But, as I read this, I do feel that it strikes a chord and shows a liveliness that really is essential to a modern reading of it.  Most of its modern readers will have no martial background and like me will only grasp its concepts and through imagination and other readings.  To move the work to a level that is current, that is living and breathing poetry, strikes me as a worthy endeavor.


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A fourth generation Californian, befuddled.

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25 thoughts on “Chris and/or Jaybird Bait…

  1. I came across this by way of Slate Star Codex a few weeks ago, and yeah, this is just fishin’ delightful. I am a huge fan of both rap and the Iliad, so this is pure catnip for me. I hope you all give it the thorough read it deserves.

    EDIT: Oh, by the way…there’s no link to the piece.


  2. Oh, that’s *GREAT*.

    They did a really good job of capturing the way they did poetry, as well. From what I’ve been taught about the ancients’ poetry, it’s that they weren’t really into the whole rhyming thing the way that we are.

    We rhyme vowels and consonants together.
    The ancients’ idea of poetry involved rhyming vowels but consonants weren’t really a big deal.

    So gangstas/banquets and accomplished/contest are *PERFECT*.


  3. I am enjoying it, though I’d make some changes. E.g.,:

    …all Achaeans holla’d back, that he was really good,
    to acknowledge this apologist and take the handsome ransom
    but his prayer found no favor when Atrides checked the scansion
    He ejected him, and wrecked him with invective, bomb as missiles:

    Invective should be “shade,” or maybe “mad shade” or some other sort of shade. But an awesome idea pretty well executed. I just reread both the epics last year. Now I may have to do so again.


          • Sure, that (or its reverse – is funny. But both are different from this guy’s argument that rap is the truest thing our culture has to what Homer was actually doing. (which may or may not be true, its just an entirely different category of artwork).

            After all, we do the ancients a disservice by pretending they were somehow ultra-refined boring folks who liked white marble statues and did nothing but heady philosophical discussions.


            • nevermoor: But both are different from this guy’s argument that rap is the truest thing our culture has to what Homer was actually doing. (which may or may not be true, its just an entirely different category of artwork).

              I find it a very dubious argument. In addition, as presented, it’s less an argument about what “Homer was actually doing” than about the oral tradition, or an argument based on certain notions about what the oral tradition actually was at some unspecified point or points in ancient Greece.

              The most obvious problem with the argument on this level is that MC Lula is not engaging in a live recitation. He is engaging in a literary performance that utilizes a limited slang vocabulary and associated tropes to refer to a particular style of oral performance.

              I think he and others here are also resting on some less openly acknowledged idea that the values of rap subculture somehow evoke the values of heroic culture – as when aaron refers to his lack of a “martial background” being addressed – but that argument is even more superficial.

              Referring to Achilles and Hector as “gangstas” may be amusing, but it’s also inane. The story of the Iliad was apparently already centuries old before the earliest surviving fragments of the classical literary tradition were written. Whether performances over those centuries were especially prized if “lively,” or whether different qualities in relation to other ends were sought, or whether the stories were understood by their audiences in the way we presume they were understood, or imagine we would understand them, they were traditional tales about heroic figures from an ancient time.

              Achilles and Hector were not “gangstas” and “homies” for the ancient Greeks. Achilles and Hector were ancient to the ancients. For us, they are so to speak exponentially ancient even if in some sense the epics may still serve the purpose of placing us in a living relationship with our distant ancestors, in a single culture surviving across thousands of years.

              I don’t think re-writing the Iliad as a dissonant mishmash of transplants and doggerel contributes very much to that end. So, another set of dubious assumptions in play has to do with the purposes of translation. There has been a long, interesting and complex discussion on this question, with the modern literary discussion touching on issues sometimes of great historical moment in relation to the treatment of sacred scripture. Without attempting to summarize this discussion, I’ll just say that the idea that a translation of an epic poem ought to seek to capture “the vitality, the exuberance of how it would have been recited, chanted, lived” may be one idea, but it isn’t the only idea. Among other things, this idea rests on particular assumptions about what “it” was and how it was received, and on the relation between what it was and what it is or what it should be for us and how we should receive it.


  4. I like what I’ve read so far. I kind of wonder how it will hold up over the length of the poem, but I suppose there’s only one way to find out.


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